Bonded: The BFA class of 2008

Imagine coming to a university with more than 50,000 students but choosing to spend your four years as an undergrad with the same 20 people, day-in, day-out, Monday through Saturday, for 1460 days. Then, imagine those 20 people are theater students...
By
  • Stephanie Dickrell
April 10, 2008

Imagine coming to a university with more than 50,000 students but choosing to spend your four years as an undergrad with the same 20 people, day-in, day-out, Monday through Saturday, for 1460 days. Then, imagine those 20 people are theater students.

New Talent, New Plays: The Class of 2008

WHEN: April 11-27, Wed
nesday through Saturday 7:30 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m.

WHERE: Dowling Studio at the Guthrie Theater, 818 South 2nd Street

TICKETS: $10 adults, $7 students and seniors, (877) 44-STAGE,
www.guthrietheater.org

For a select few who choose to enter the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theatre bachelor of fine arts Acting Training Program, that is their reality. The program is different from the bachelor of arts program the department of theater arts and dance also offers.

This year's graduating class has 19 students, the same 19 who started together in freshman year. Dusty - the 20th member who never showed up the first day - is a running joke within the group.

They've been through Shakespeare, textual analysis, stage combat and study abroad together. They know each others' strengths and weaknesses.

This group is the fifth graduating class of the program, which was started in 2000, strengthening the bond that the University and the Guthrie have had since the Guthrie's inception in 1963.

The program produced Santino Fontana, the actor who played Hamlet in the last show in the Guthrie's old building.

"That was a landmark moment, I think, for the program, where the first class could produce 'Hamlet,' " said Ken Washington, the Director of Company Development at the Guthrie. Together with Judy Bartl, the BFA program director, Washington finds students for the program, touring the country to talk to and audition high school students and then hearing auditions.

Bartl works closely with the students, watching their progress both academically and as actors throughout their years in the program. "If you want to be anonymous, this is not the program for you," she said.

THE PLAYS »

"Be Here Now"

Based on the Russian turn-of-the-century play "The Three Sisters" by Anton Chekhov, "Be Here Now" is a modern version, following three sisters that are looking for something different for their lives.

"It's at the same time really complex and really simple," Frost said.

The play was much more set for the actors, student Duncan Frost said, more so than the other two plays.

"The End"

A play about six college students who dress up to get the last book in a Harry Potter-like book series a day-and-a-half before graduation. They spend 24 hours at their friend's cabin, reading the book before they say goodbye. As the students read, the characters in the book start to parallel the characters in the play.

"It's very appropriate for college age students," said Ashley Peterson, one of the actors. It reflects all the themes and fears that come with graduation.

While rehearsing, the actors collaborated with the writer to fix any lines or confusion that comes up," Peterson said.

"When I Was a Ghost"

Using nontraditional story-telling, "When I Was a Ghost" (written by Debra Stein) follows characters that are grappling with the disappearance of a famous singer who somehow affects all of their lives.

"It ranges from very, very naturalistic to very, very absurd," Christine Weber said, "like film noir meets comic book hero."

The rehearsal process was very fluid.

"We spent three-and-a-half weeks in rehearsal improvising, making up things, helping to flesh out the characters that she wanted," Weber said.

As for the students, four years of working and studying together, and the shared experiences and goals result in a pretty close group.

"I'm really best friends with all of them," Duncan Frost said, one of the students, who's originally from Oregon. "My company members function as teachers as much as our actual instructors do."

"It's really, really rewarding to then see how 18 people around you have grown and changed," said Christine Weber, a Minneapolis native, "to know that - not in a prideful way - you were there for that. You got to see it from the ground up."

The ability to adapt the way you work and be flexible, is what she learned from the program, she said, and to be supportive.

"When you're on stage it's not all about you," she said.

"It's that family dichotomy where you trust them with your life," said Ashley Petersen who is originally from St. Paul. Because everyone becomes so comfortable with each other, they are more able to take risks in the rehearsal room than if they were in a room full of strangers, she said.

Of course, this type of program isn't for everyone, and students quickly learn whether they're cut out for the acting life, Peterson said.

Because the program is still relatively new - only in its fourth year when this group began -some scheduling kinks were and are being worked out.

Then, there's the drama that inevitably comes with a closed group of people - the relationships and the ups and downs.

"We joke about how Bravo should do a series on a class," Weber said, "One day there's unnecessary drama, the next day it's completely lovey-dovey and amazing."

The students will be highlighted in a last performance all together, "New Talent, New Plays: The Class of 2008" performed at the Guthrie's Dowling Studio.

The three separate pieces have been in the works since last spring. The Guthrie commissioned writers to create pieces specifically for these students. So last spring, the playwrights spent some time getting to know the students, took the summer to flesh out their scripts, and then returned to work with the students.

Performing plays written for them, that are new and modern, is a change for the students, as the BFA program focuses on classics - Shakespeare, the Greek classics, and more established younger plays. The chance to work on something so fresh is unique.

"It was a whole different way of working than what we're used to," said Weber.

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